Email … What’s that?

Electronic mail is the most popular business tool in the world, yet more than half of 30 top New Zealand companies surveyed by Computerworld don't have a written email policy for their staff. We asked businesses about email and its uses and abuses. Five of the 30 respondents were frustrated by the amount of email staff receive and a further two felt it was most pronounced during the Christmas period, when staff sent large animated attachments, sent and received more personal mail and generally clogged up IT systems.

Electronic mail is the most popular business tool in the world, yet more than half of 30 top New Zealand companies surveyed by Computerworld don’t have a written email policy for their staff.

We asked businesses about email and its uses and abuses. Five of the 30 respondents were frustrated by the amount of email staff receive and a further two felt it was most pronounced during the Christmas period, when staff sent large animated attachments, sent and received more personal mail and generally clogged up IT systems.

Canterbury Health’s Stephen Whiteside says it’s not necessarily the personal mail that’s the problem — it’s more a lack of judgement on the part of email users. Among other things, he points the finger at people forwarding email because it “might” be of interest to you.

Whiteside is IT manager for 4000 users and believes email is a crucial communication tool.

“In many respects we claim that communication is too easy now. If you put it in perspective of where we were before email, it’s not the worst complaint.”

He believes email policy is more a human resource issue than one of technology. “We’re in the process of developing our email policy.”

That puts Canterbury Health in the minority — only 10 of the respondents had a policy on email, with two more developing their policies at the moment.

Beca Carter Holdings is one of those companies that already has a policy on employees’ rights in relation to email.

“Email is such an important system to many companies these days there needs to be a policy covering it,” says Beca’s IT manager, Don Bisset. He points out that large companies usually have a policy for just about everything relating to their business. He was concerned by the number of cases in New Zealand courts that involved email and a company’s potential liability, as well as a company’s image.

“Our company communicates an awful lot with its clients via email so it was appropriate for us to be sure the image we were giving our clients was the professional one we wanted to portray.”

Beca has purchased from a legal firm a ready-made set of guidelines that includes a 10-point list and a comprehensive policy statement. In it, staff are notified that system administrators have access to their email and that all email is considered company property. Bisset also points out that many email addresses have the company’s name included and that employees should take care to ensure the company’s name is not tarnished. The policy also covers the company position on sending “sensitive” material via email.

Allan Marsh, business support manager for Serco, a company that specialises in “task management contracting”, says the company doesn’t have a policy on email, although he admits it is something he should look at.

“We’re not a large user of email. We use it for internal correspondence and for emailing to some customers and our regional office in Sydney.” He believes that for large companies a policy is a necessity.

“If we were a large organisation we probably would be getting concerned.”

Of the 30 respondents, 29 felt that the benefits of email outweighed the negatives, with only one person feeling they did not.

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